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Secretary Perdue upbeat on finalized ERS site selection

TAGS: Policy
Alex Wong/GettyImages U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
Goal remains to relocate more than 500 ERS and NIFA employees to Kansas City Region by September 2019.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue informed his employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA) on Thursday that their new offices will be housed in the Kansas City Region. The end goal remains to increase efficiency and effectiveness and bring important resources to stakeholders, Perdue said.

While speaking to media Thursday afternoon, Perdue said he does not know how many of the proposed 547 employees set to relocate will make the decision to move. “Our goal is to relocate everyone who wants to go. This is not an operation to leave anyone behind,” Perdue said. “We hope most, if not all, will go with the USDA family to the new location.”

Out of NIFA’s 315 positions, 294 will relocate, while 21 will stay in the National Capitol Region. Of the 329 ERS positions, 253 will relocate, and 76 will stay in the Washington, D.C., area.

As a result of this move, no ERS or NIFA employees will be involuntarily separated. Every employee who wants to continue working will have an opportunity to do so, although that will mean moving to a new location, for most. Employees will be offered relocation assistance and will receive the same base pay as before, plus the locality pay for the new location, USDA said in a statement.

Perdue said an estimated $26 million in relocation incentives are being offered to those who make the decision to move. He did not disclose that information but said the local regions will be offering some of those incentives, which were part of the final selection criteria.

The KC Animal Health Corridor features more than 300 animal health companies. Perdue said he anticipates great synergies to help supply the workforce as well as research issues. He also looks forward to the dual career options for family members who choose to travel with USDA employees.

The USDA team is evaluating multiple Class A office properties in Kansas and Missouri for a 120,000 sq. ft. space that will house both agencies and expects to be operational this fall. Perdue said he does not know if that final location will be on the Kansas or Missouri side of the Kansas City Region. He anticipates having a proposal out by July 1.

Perdue said there is currently a USDA facility in the region that could house up to 200 employees in the near term. This will allow those employees and their families who want to relocate to do so ahead of the school year starting. The rest of the staff is expected to be on the ground no later than Sept. 30, 2019, if they choose to relocate.

In response to congressional action in the House appropriations bill to halt or limit funds for the move, Perdue said, “Hopefully, we’ll be allowed to complete this move with minimal disruption.”

Perdue said he knows that the move is “not unanimously acclaimed” by ERS and NIFA employees. This spring, both agencies overwhelming voted to join a union in hopes of having a greater say in the final site selection.

He noted that, unlike when a company leaves a rural community, ERS and NIFA’s move outside of the National Capitol Region still offers many choices for those employees who wish to stay there. “While we want everyone to stay with us, if a federal employee wants to stay, there are other options here in federal service,” Perdue noted.

At the end of the day, Perdue said he recognizes the disruption a move has on families and individual workers but believes it will still benefit the two agencies. “We still believe it is the best decision,” he added.

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